Israel Warns of ‘Long’ War as Invasion of Gaza Strip Begins

Israel Warns of ‘Long’ War as Invasion of Gaza Strip Begins

Israel announced the “second stage” of its war against Hamas, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning that the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip will be “long and difficult” as the risks of a broader Middle East conflict rise.

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(Bloomberg) — Israel announced the “second stage” of its war against Hamas, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning that the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip will be “long and difficult” as the risks of a broader Middle East conflict rise.  

“We have one main goal to beat the enemy and guarantee our existence,” Netanyahu, dressed in black, said in nationally televised remarks.

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Since the unprecedented Oct. 7 onslaught by the militant group that left more than 1,400 Israelis dead, the question was what the response would look like after Netanyahu’s repeated threats to wipe out Hamas. 

Repeated bombings killed thousands of Palestinians, yet under pressure from visiting world leaders and the threat of attack on multiple fronts, Israel calibrated its retaliation. It continues to negotiate the release of some 200 hostages.

It appears to be an invasion by stealth. But the fear is that groups backed by Iran will further escalate attacks in the Middle East in response. Washington’s Arab allies across the region, whose populations are highly attuned to the Palestinian cause, have also warned of wider tensions. 

US President Joe Biden, who cannot afford to be drawn into another major conflict during his re-election campaign, has already dispatched two aircraft carrier groups and air-defense systems to the energy-producing region and put thousands of troops on alert.

Netanyahu, whose own legacy is at stake, was speaking after Israel escalated Gaza operations with troops, tanks, artillery and intense aerial bombardment. Internet and communications had been cut off in Gaza during a major incursion where troops took control of part of the north of the territory. 

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And in spite of his signature bombastic rhetoric, analysts were quick to put his words into perspective. Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza, is not a “full-scale” attack as many expected, said Amos Yadlin, a former director of Israeli military intelligence.

“It’s a low intensity conflict. It is not a blitzkrieg, it’s inch by inch, meter by meter,” Yadlin told reporters on a conference call.

Speaking at a news conference, Netanyahu dismissed the idea that the Gaza invasion would endanger some 200 hostages held by Hamas, saying there was “no contradiction” between the goal of freeing them and destroying Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union. 

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israeli troops were operating both above ground and underground in Gaza. Hamas has a vast network of tunnels that it uses to move around weapons and men and where it’s believed be keeping some captives.

The operation is likely to involve fierce urban fighting and likely cause extensive casualties on both sides. Israel has bombarded the territory since the Oct. 7 attacks, killing thousands of people according to authorities in the Hamas-run enclave. 

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Hamas’ Secret Tunnel Network Complicates Israel’s Gaza Offensive

Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned in an interview with Bloomberg Television before Israel’s announcement that new fronts would open against the US if it keeps up unequivocal support for Israel, escalating a rhetorical back-and-forth that has stoked fears of a wider regional war.

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Just this week, the US sent warplanes to strike targets in Syria – its first military action in the region since Oct. 7  – after a string of attacks by Iran-backed militias had injured more than a dozen troops at US bases there and in Iraq.

“Our partners in the Arab world understand that if Israel doesn’t win, they’ll be next,” Netanyahu said, a thinly-veiled reference to Iran-backed militia groups in the region and the threat Middle Eastern countries might be facing from them.

Leaders from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warned Israel against a ground invasion and urged a cease-fire.

There are fears Hezbollah will respond to the ground incursion by launching a mass of missiles across Israel’s northern border. 

The Lebanese group is, like Hamas, funded and backed by Iran and designated a terrorist group by the US. It’s one of the most powerful militias in the Middle East and thought to have more than 100,000 rockets and missiles at its disposal. It’s exchanged fire frequently with the Israeli military in the past two weeks.

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